Universal Apprenticeship for the UK

Vocational Education Training (VET) – to be known as the Universal Apprenticeship – could offer a (debt-free) pathway from “shop to top” as an alternative to a university based education.

To make this a reality, certain changes have to be made to the present system regarding the content of the learning offering. In addition, it needs simplifying and a higher degree of standardisation to achieve the necessary scale, which in turn will make it more cost-effective.

These changes are of course primarily designed to make apprenticeships more desirable to youngsters as well as employers. A lot of what is on offer at present should stay in place and form the basis of an upgraded, attractive first step on the ladder of a career for young people.

Eventually the Universal Apprenticeship should replace all of NVQ1-4, Modern and Advanced Apprenticeships. It would need high level political and business support, together with a PR makeover.


Vocational should therefore mean that young persons’ differing talents – academic, artistic or practical – are recognised as equally useful in a “Big and Inclusive Society”. Accordingly, young people need to be offered corresponding pathways – firstly, from school into the world of work and after a successful completion of the first step – the Universal Apprenticeship, further career progression opportunities to fulfil their aspirations may they be in trades, crafts, technical, administrative or other occupations.


Education should mean that school leavers aged 16 to 19, by choosing the Universal Apprenticeship are not just taught the ins and outs of a specific job in a narrow manner, but that they continue their education in general terms, too.

Enhancing their social and communication skills would be some of the aims of this part of their further education. This will lay the necessary foundation to enable the person to move off “the shop floor” and reach “the top floor” of his chosen profession, whatever it may be. This part must be the responsibility of vocational colleges, as it needs real teaching abilities. Of the total college based part of the apprenticeship, it should be around one third of the learning program, whilst the other two thirds are the theoretical part backing up the in-house company job specific training.


The largest part of the Universal Apprenticeship, namely Training, ought to be based on standardised frameworks of in-company/organisation learning.

This would typically be over a period of around 2-3 years, for which the apprentice and employer enter into a training contract. Ideally the frameworks should give the apprentice as holistic an insight into their work environment as possible.

This gives the trainee/employees more self-esteem, empowers them to work more autonomous with less supervision and ultimately is more flexible, cost-efficient and productive.

The apprenticeship training contract should be largely standardised and safeguarded by law. To complete an apprenticeship successfully there should be a recognised and meaningful certification process, to ensure successful apprentices achieve good standing in society as young professionals.

In short, a successfully completed apprenticeship should not be the end but the beginning of a career for those with aspirations.


Author: Bob Bischof

German Robert (Bob) Bischof has lived and worked in Britain for 40 years. He is convinced that the two countries can gain much by learning from each other. Well-known for his outspoken comments on economic, political and industrial issues concerning Britain and Germany, he is a regular contributor to a range of newspapers and other publications, including the Financial Times and other national papers.

One thought on “Universal Apprenticeship for the UK”

  1. I wholeheartedly support the proposition . The key as I see it is at the outset to elevate the desirability and prestige of a formalised “vocational” path,with the promise of a more secure and fulfilling future. The marketing or PR makeover would need to be far more joined up and agressive to be seen as a rival for the now essential “degree in just about anything”, mentality.

    For this to become a reality the achievement of a Universal Apprenticeship would need to sweep away the current miriad of vocational training qualifications to become recognised by employers and particpants alike as the primary route to training and a right of passage to a bright future.

    For the Universal Apprenticeship to become the desired route for young people entering the workplace will need a superhuman effort. It will also need to be Government/Industry driven. The alternative is now – too many degree students going nowhere because of inferior degrees and no workplace experience and the rest left to seek what?
    Looking back can be both dangerous and helpful but it should teach us that there is an inescapable and irrevocable bond and essential. continuity between the education phase and working life is and ultimately the success of UK Ltd.

    On the question of my subject – marketing – how can we give an allure to what is wrongly in my view called “vocational” training. This differentiates it from other training and downgrades it in the process. It currently looks second class to a degree course.

    As an example of upgrading the image of apprenticeship, my city, Coventry, offered “indentured” apprentices, who will have been formally trained by city firms and Colleges/Universities, the Freedom of the City in a formal ceremony in the Council Chamber.
    There is an exciting and essential task ahead.

    I see this as a vital discussion and action proposal going forward and compliment the intiative.

    Tony Sproul.

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